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How a New App is Changing Engagement with Ithaca Art

The first Friday of the month is just another start to the weekend for many people. But for Tomas Black, owner of The Potter’s Room, it’s a night for him to gather in the gallery with his fellow artists to display their toothpick sculptures, paintings and pottery works for the public.

“We’re trying to change Ithaca and the surrounding areas by allowing people to have a place to come and express themselves,” Black said.

The First Friday Gallery Night is a monthly event that showcases art from about 20 different galleries around Downtown Ithaca. Throughout the evening, the public may wander around the Commons and surrounding locations to view art from local, national and international artists.

But there’s something different about this Gallery Night. Starting last Friday, there was a twist in the way the public was touring galleries. This was the first time Gallery Night used PocketSights, a new free app developed in Ithaca that lets users take self-guided tours with the tap of their screen.

“You can currently pick up a printed catalogue that tells you all of the places are open tonight,” said Sally Grubb, a member of Ithaca’s Public Art Committee. “The app will do that, but it’s more interactive.”

How It’s Used

Grubb’s committee uses the app for its “21 Boxes Tour,” which takes users to different electrical boxes around town to view the works artists have painted on those devices.

PocketSights uses the GPS function to guide users to the nearest point on that tour and then provides a brief description of the location. Through the app, users can also snap photos and share their experiences on Facebook and Twitter.

Black said he sees this app as another opportunity for his studio to translate social media exposure into actual gallery visits.

“It’s a live stream of how cool it is or how bad it is,” Black said. “Instead of being lost into ‘I don’t know which one to go to,’ you can find out stuff real fast.”

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance works closely with PocketSights co-founder Allen Ward to develop tours for different points of interest in Ithaca, including restaurants, architecture, public art, and music. Allison Graffin, director of marketing for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said an app like this caters well to the city’s high rates of walkability.

“Because we are such a walkable downtown, having a walking tour to go with it gives us an opportunity to let people navigate the paths themselves,” Graffin said.

Digital Tour Trends Nationwide

According to Ithaca College Strategic Communications Professor Xanthe Matychak, the concept of the digital tour in relation to art is a trend that’s gaining traction. As a board member of the Ithaca Generator, a community workshop that looks into and develops new trends, Matychak said she sees much experimentation when it comes to developing apps for innovative purposes.

“What’s cool about digital technology like this is you test it and you see where it’s great, and you see where it breaks, and you get version two really quickly,” Matychak said. “The platforms that will win will be the ones that learn really quickly and adapt to what the users are needing and doing.”

There are a few drawbacks with PocketSights and the digital trend. Right now, the app is only available on iTunes, excluding Droid users. Still, the app offers multiple tour locations, including ones in Ithaca, Syracuse, New York City, Florida, and even UCLA. When it comes to viewing art, Matychak said trends like PocketSights boost the social aspect of viewing art in a gallery setting.

“I think people want their friends to know they’re engaging in art,” Matychak said. “That’s the real value right there -- creating a social discussion around art.”

PocketSights creator Allen Ward was also interviewed for this piece, providing information about the app, locations of PocketSights other tours and future app developments.

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